Knoxville’s own “American Ninja Warrior” Grant McCartney returned to town last weekend to give local kids a chance to learn the skills and mentality that it takes to compete on the show’s brutal obstacle course.
McCartney, who moved to Hawaii eight years ago, explained that he has been touring cities all over the country setting up “Ninja Clinics,” but bringing the clinics to Knoxville was a special opportunity for him.
“Knoxville is always going to be home. To come back into a town where I get a lot of love just makes it even better,” he said. “I’ve been touring the U.S. for six months now doing these Ninja Clinics all over, so finally I get to do one here in town. It’s different. It’s not just moms telling me, ‘Hey, thank you for doing this,’ it’s family moms that raised me that come to give me big hugs and say, ‘Oh man, I’m so glad you came back!’”
McCartney, who has a history of dedicating his time and effort to helping kids learn about fun ways to be active, said that the motivation behind his six-month “Ninja Clinic” tour came from a desire to give this generation of kids the same support and experiences that he was given by adults in his life.
“My passion for loving comes from my faith in Christ, but my desire for helping the kids comes from my always having good role models and good people helping when I was younger,” he said. “These guys would come and just spend time and give things to me or help me out and give me an avenue for my athletic energy.”
In 2015, the same year that he first competed on “American Ninja Warrior,” McCartney traveled to India with plans to build a skate park for children there. After learning that it would be a larger endeavor than expected, McCartney and his friends returned to India in 2016 with the funding and support they needed. His drive to help kids find a fun way to be active stemmed from the same help he received as a child, he said.
“Someone older poured into me, and because of that I got to live a more fulfilled life doing more activities, feeling more loved, getting more chance, more opportunities,” he said. “I want to do that for the youth so that they will have more opportunities and hopefully keep that cycle going, because when we pour back, it continues to overflow, and it has a way of growing.”
According to McCartney, that dedication to giving kids the support and encouragement they need to have fun and be successful runs in the family. He explained that his father Ron, who played football for the University of Tennessee and the Atlanta Falcons, was an ever-present source of support throughout his childhood.
“Everything I ever did; my dad would show up in the stands as my number one supporter. Now that I’m older I see that as time commitment. That’s effort and energy that he put in every time that I did something,” he said. “He was the epitome of always being there and always pouring into me and doing what I needed.”
Now at age 29, McCartney has found his own way to pour into kids the encouragement that he found as a child. The “Ninja Clinics” are his way of doing that, he said, and he wants the kids who participate in them to see that ultimate purpose behind them is having fun and doing their best.
“That’s the mentality that I want to keep going with this; do your best, but ultimately have fun,” he said. “Even if you don’t make it, or you fail or whatever, it’s all for fun. That’s the mentality that I want people to have.”